Student to Professional: Defining the Transition

Earlier on as an art student, I struggled with understanding the difference between being a student and a professional. I wasn’t quite sure where I should draw the line or when I should even consider myself as being a professional artist. I had this false idea that by the end of my undergraduate career I would be the best in my craft, or otherwise I would have failed miserably. I eventually came to realize that this most definitely is not the case.

While studying Digital Art during my undergraduate years, I was able to experiment with many different mediums, techniques and concepts. It was a chance for me to get my hands dirty and in doing so I was able to figure out what it was I liked to do as well as things I did not. During this time, I definitely considered myself a student. Professional practice wasn’t my priority and I instead focused on learning as much as I could about art while I had so many resources available to me.

About half way through undergrad, I was feeling lost like so many of my fellow classmates and the days in which others would finally see me as a professional felt years away. I felt as though my work was alright, but that it could be much better. It seemed to me that I had hit a plateau that I would never get past. It took me a while, but I came to realize something that would change the way I felt about myself as an artist. I was feeling discouraged not because of the quality of my work, but by the attitude that I held. I believe that my old mode of thinking was one of the things that still defined me as being a student.

Another idea that I struggled with was the false idea that a student’s work should be valued less than a professional’s. While working towards my BFA, I received many requests to do commissions in exchange for publicity and no pay. While this ‘publicity’ may have been nice, at the end of the day I did have bills to pay and art was my chosen profession. If I had worked for free, I would have set the tone that it was perfectly acceptable. As a professional, I needed to know my worth. I believe that the day I stopped working for free, was the day I became a professional.

I feel that the overarching step to becoming a professional artist is to take yourself seriously. You should not let others define your worth, and you should most definitely believe in yourself. After all, Having a positive attitude goes a long way. Once you make that transition into being a professional artist, it is important that you continue to learn. I encourage you to think about the way you carry yourself as an artist and how you can further define yourself as a professional.

What is something in your experience that has held you back from becoming a professional artist? How did you overcome that obstacle?